Actor Mentee Laura MacDonald Reflects on her Experience with the WIFTV Actor Career Mentorship Program

Before joining Women in Film and Television Vancouver, I found myself working my restaurant joe job day in, day out, waiting for someone to call me and offer me auditions or projects that never came. I felt completely alone in this business and didn’t even know that I didn’t know what I was doing. I was unconsciously incompetent. I had no idea where to begin. When my acting teacher suggested I look into joining Women in Film and Television and applying for their mentorship program, I jumped at the opportunity to put my passion to work. I appreciated how thorough the application process was; it gave me a chance to reflect on where I saw myself as an artist and where I wanted to go. What am I working on? What are my challenges? What are my goals? These are questions that I hadn’t really asked myself and getting clear on the answers was the first step towards creating the professional life I wanted for myself.

When I found out that I had been chosen to be paired with a mentor, I was thrilled and very nervous. Here was this incredible woman, with decades of experience in the industry, offering to help little ol’ me. I arrived at our first meeting with a million questions, ready to soak in everything I could. What I didn’t anticipate was how excited she was to work with me! I had gained an instant teammate and friend. We hit it off right away, chatting about everything from our roots on the east coast, to classes offered in the city, to personal life balance. All my fears and doubts about my ability washed away. She assured me that I was exactly where I should be – at the beginning.

Over the next six months, we emailed, texted and met up regularly. She gave me valuable insight into the world of auditioning, production, casting, and the role of an actor on set. I came to understand how the camera and casting sees me and worked on putting together reflective marketing material. I grew more confident in not only my acting ability, but in the value of my personality – in who I am, as a woman in film and television.

Of course, the mentorship program is about so much more than just the one on one relationship with a mentor. I was now a part of the WIFTV Mentees of 2016, and what a mighty group we are! I met so many talented, inspiring ladies that I am proud to now call my friends. Getting together with the ladies to volunteer at QUEST food exchange became a highlight of my month. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel alone anymore. I was one of a team who were all working hard to make strides in the industry. I loved sharing our individual stories, how we got to be where we are, and where we want to go. It gave me a real sense that there is a place for all of us. We may all be looking for careers as actors, but in different, specific ways. It’s exciting to think that 10 years from now we could be in the position to become mentors in our own right. I can’t wait to see what this fierce group of ladies accomplishes next.

As if all that wasn’t enough, the mentorship program also opened me up to the larger film and television community in Vancouver. The workshops that were offered introduced me to the respected Actors Business Collective, the inspiring work of Project Limelight and Tuesday Night Live, the monthly Cold Read Series, as well as the greater WIFTV community. I even had the opportunity to stretch my writing skills and preview some beautiful films created by women for the WIFTV film festival. It’s crazy to think that in just one short year, I went from feeling alone to finding my place in Vancouver’s awesome film and television world.

If you’re reading this blog, thinking about applying to be a part of the program, don’t hesitate. There’s a whole world out here eager to help you on your journey. All you have to do is start!

By Laura MacDonald


VIWIFF International Screenplay Competition Seeks Stories for the Screen – Written by Women

From New York to California, Michigan to Florida, Victoria to Prince Edward Island and points between: Scotland, Wales, France, Turkey and India – the VIWIFF International Screenplay Competition is receiving script submissions from around the globe. #VIWIFF2017 promises a stellar group of screenplays. From historical drama to hysterical comedy, we have a virtual stack of scripts to divvy amongst our talented jury.


What exactly do the jurists look for? The first round of reading involves only the first act, to a maximum of 30 pages. If the writer has no “reversal” by the end of 30 pages… hmm. Could be a problem with structure. Does the “first act break” catapult the story? Does it make you want to continue the journey with the characters? And who are these characters? Are they introduced in a way that brings them to life – interesting and well delineated? Would an actor want to play them?

So many questions! Is the dialogue snappy? Realistic? Unique to each character? Does it serve a purpose? Does each scene reveal character, advance the plot, or both? Are the scenes “buttoned” at the end? The judges look for continuity and flow, as well as visual writing. Is it easy to “see” the movie as you read the script; does it draw you into the world of the story with imagery? But succinctly and cinematically, without being too wordy.

What about originality? There are only so many plots, or so people say. Is it a new take on a story we know? Is it something we haven’t seen before?

The last item the judges have to determine in the first round: Does the synopsis match the story? Each writer is allowed up to 500 words for a summary of their script. Our jury of well-trained screenwriters and story analysts will choose ten official selections. Those writers will be invited to send in their entire script… and the judges will start all over again, with 80 to 120 pages instead of just 30. Many thanks to our volunteer jurists!

Do you begin to think there’s more to screenwriting than meets the eye? The starting point for every great film is a well-written script. Women tell amazing, dynamic, interesting, thought-provoking, affecting, inspiring, funny and down-right exciting stories. We want to read them all!

Extended deadline: October 15th

For more information and to submit, please visit our website:

By Joan Macbeth

“A personal obligation to share these stories”: Joella Cabalu and the making of her documentary It Runs in the Family


Still of It Runs in the Family

Nestled in the back corner of a cozy café on a crisp Saturday morning, I sat down with filmmaker Joella Cabalu to talk about her recent documentaries, StandStill (2013) and It Runs in the Family (2015). We spoke for nearly two hours in what felt more like a friendly conversation than an interview, as Joella shared her emotional journey in the making of both her films. As we sipped our coffees, Joella explained the barriers she faced with tackling a story as personal as the coming out of her brother, but also touched on the rewarding nature of documentary filmmaking.

In 2007, Joella’s brother, Jay, came out to her. Joella recalls, “when Jay came out to me, it was one of those circumstances that was almost surreal – I had to balance being a supportive sister with not letting shock read on my face.” At the time, she was finishing up her art history degree at UBC. She was the first person Jay had told in her family, and she knew that Jay would have a difficult time coming out to the rest of the family, given their Roman Catholic upbringing and Filipino background.

When Joella started studying film at Langara College’s Documentary Film Production program, she began to form a narrative in her mind about Jay’s coming out and its impact on her family. She knew she had to make a 10-minute project as her graduate film. “I knew going into school, I wanted to make essentially what would become StandStill. But really what I wanted to make was It Runs in the Family,” Joella explains to me. She knew the 10-minute short would be a good start to tackling a longer film.

Jay Cabalu

Jay Cabalu

Joella constantly checked in with her brother throughout the writing stages of the film. “For him, it was going to be challenging, having to dig up all of those feelings again,” Joella says. Soon after, she and Jay set out on a journey to track down other queer family members in both North America and the Philippines. As she and Jay got to know their relatives more, they began to think that Jay was not so different from the rest of his family after all. “We’re trying to create this space to have this conversation and normalize it,” she explained.

Joella’s allyship to the LGBTQ+ community, her willingness to be vulnerable, and her empathy towards differing perspectives give the film a sense of maturity and completeness. It neither judges nor is assuming of other identities on the subject of LGBTQ+ rights. The story unfolds organically and both she and Jay are self-reflective in their interviews and encounters with family.

One of Joella’s major moments of reflection was when director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) asked during a screening of a rough cut, why should I care about Jay? Joella realized that the objective of her film was not to portray Jay as a gay person, but as a person – period. “People really became interested in who Jay was when they saw his art,” she explains. Because of this, Joella held a second interview with Jay and included footage of him making his art. This new addition provided a beautiful juxtaposition between Jay collaging materials together on a canvas and piecing together stories of his queer family. In the film, Jay mentions that collaging is the sum of all of his experiences. And so, Joella found the missing piece to complete her film.

“I feel that being the race that I am, and having the background that I have – I immigrated here as a kid – and the gender that I am as well, I am very aware of the inequity in terms of representation in the media. I feel a personal obligation to share these stories. I want my contribution to be unique and to add, for lack of a better word, diversity to the whole thing,” Joella explains.

As the production of It Runs in the Family came to an end, Joella had a very different outlook than when she started the film: “It made me think about why you need to declare to the world [your orientation]?” In traveling to a different culture and listening to her family’s stories and Jay’s feelings, Joella was able to gain a deeper understanding on these issues, and she felt rewarded in how, ultimately, they are family and they will love and accept each other no matter their identity. But most importantly, Joella advises documentary makers “try and find what it means for you” in order to really make the process worth it.

It Runs in the Family will have its hometown premiere at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival on Tuesday August 16th at 9:00 pm, International Village. Buy tickets here.


Joella Cabalu

It has screened all over North America, winning the Audience Choice Award at the Seattle Asian American Film Festival and special jury mention for social justice documentary at CAAMFest. It will have its Canadian television broadcast on OUTtv in October 2016.

By Zoe Arthur
Photos courtesy of Joella Cabalu

Zoe Arthur is a UBC film production student, minoring in gender, race, sexuality and social justice. She writes about social issues in a critical, feminist framework and aims to show how film can be a powerful tool for social change. 

The Story that Chose Bal Brach


Bal Brach never wanted a big fat Indian wedding. So how did her documentary about Indian weddings, Little India Big Business, end up becoming her first feature project? “I wanted to look into why I had a reluctance to get married. I went down the rabbit hole looking into Indian weddings. The story really chooses you is what I’ve learned in the process.” In researching the topic, Bal discovered a huge industry in Surrey that caters to the extravagant multi-day weddings that cost families upwards of $100,000. “This is a glimpse into that world and how people are trying to find meaning in these lavish affairs.”

In addition to researching the booming industry, Bal wanted to uncover other people like her, who preferred the non-conventional options. During the three year process of making the documentary, Bal got engaged and married. It was a small (by Indian standards) destination wedding of 85 people in Jamaica. And not without its challenges. Bal described the stressful night before her wedding, when instead of being overcome with excitement, a Sikh priest they had flown in from Texas nearly reneged on his agreement to marry them. “I thought I had found this moderate, progressive priest. The night before the wedding, he said, ‘I don’t think I should be doing this wedding. It should be indoors. It should be done this way.’” A focus of the documentary is the pressure that Indian couples face to pursue the traditional route. Bal hopes the “doc gives people permission to have their own wedding and do it their own way and not bow to societal pressures, whether you’re Indian or not.”

In 2015, Bal pitched her project at the Banff World Media Festival, as the recipient of the Women in Film and Television Vancouver mentorship. When asked how the experience impacted her, Bal said it was huge: “As a journalist, I am used to working in a deadline driven environment; I usually file daily. Trying to work on a longer project and having no resources was difficult, until I heard about Women in Film and Television Vancouver. A friend [Christina Bulbrook] encouraged me to get in touch. There were workshops and there were ways to get this project in front of people that I normally wouldn’t have had access to. That was hugely beneficial, along with learning about the process of making television.” Other women within the community, like Christine Larsen, who was with Creative BC at the time, and Sheila Peacock, from CBC Independent Producers and who recommended Creative BC, were instrumental. It “all led to women helping women get it off the ground.”


Additionally, Bal felt less lonely throughout the process because of contacts she made at Banff. But access to a community was one thing missing overall. If provided with the opportunity to repeat the experience differently, she said, without much hesitation, she would love more help: “I ended up writing, directing, and producing this myself. I realized it’s a lot of hats to wear.” Part of the reluctance to seek assistance was due to the personal nature and passion surrounding the project. However, Bal is “learning to ask, because there are so many people who are willing to help.”

When asked about her upcoming work, there was a hint of reticence because the documentary still feels so fresh, and like a “pinch me” moment. Not to mention the exhaustion: “Someone asked if I’d do it again. I think if you ask me in a month or two I would be able to give an answer that would be more reflective of the truth, but right now I am overwhelmed. It’s been a long journey; I’m really proud of the project, but I need a break. Putting it all together and starting your own production company and doing this as an independent was the most challenging career move I’ve ever made. Sometimes when I thought it was too much and I couldn’t handle it, something kept pushing me. I don’t know where that energy came from, but whatever the next story is, I hope it gives me another six or seven weeks for a break first, because it is a long process to get this done.”

The finish line is in sight: after a popular social media campaign (the YouTube trailer has garnered over 14,000 views to date), Little India Big Business will air on CBC at 7 pm PST on Saturday in BC and Alberta, and will be available nationwide that same day. Bal attributes the success to interest from both Indians and non-Indians. “It started a conversation within the community. It has ignited a debate about whether or not these $100,000 weddings are too lavish or a waste of money. Outside of the community, it is shock and awe: ‘I’ve always wanted to go to an Indian wedding. I’ve always wondered how much they spend.’ If they watch this and they’re not Indian, they can understand a lot of it is rooted in family and love and that’s why people are willing to spend so much. They really want to celebrate; that’s the root of it.”

Little India Big Business will air on CBC at 7 pm PST on Saturday in BC and Alberta, and will be available nationwide that same day at

By Brianna Girdler

The WIFTV Banff World Media Festival Mentorship, a life-changing experience.


Dawn Brett-Hauschild at the Banff World Media Festival

WIFTV caught up with Dawn Brett-Hauschild, the winner of the WIFTV Banff World Media Festival Mentorship, to find out about her festival experience, the industry professional mentorship, and her upcoming projects. Dawn discussed her time at Banff, and disclosed her exciting future plans to us in a short interview.

1) How was the festival? What was the biggest highlight of the festival for you?

Overall, the festival was amazing – like a fairytale come true. On the first day, I soaked everything in as an observer on the sidelines. But by the end, I had made dozens of real connections with leading broadcasters, agents, and other like-minded writer/producers. I even ran into an old university friend who is now one of the top female directors of original programming in Canada. How crazy is that?

As for highlights, there are so many. Apart from my projects being well received on the whole, a couple of Canadian production executives asked if I’d be willing to relocate outside Vancouver to work on some of their popular television series. Talk about a shot in the arm!

On a personal note, I was also impressed with the open and friendly vibe. Writer/producers rooted for each other. Online influencers explained their craft to conventional television types. Broadcasters spent their precious free time talking with emerging producers. When I heard HBO was being honoured as the Company of Distinction this year, I thought little-known Canadian writer/producers like me would be relegated to the sidelines. Not so. Everyone was so open and accessible at the master classes, the luncheons, and even the exclusive after-parties. The level of candour and camaraderie was so inspiring.

2) What did you learn throughout your Banff World Media Festival experience?

The Banff Festival taught me so much. It gave me a better handle on where the television business is going, and how I best fit into it. I also learned that, as a writer, I have a desirable skill set – one that I can now manage to chart a new course for my career and achieve my creative ambitions.

3) Did the mentorship benefit you? What did you learn from your mentor and how did she help you?

Meeting with Lark’s development executive, Briean Kenward, was the perfect start to this whole experience. She was kind, encouraging and totally accessible – despite her very busy schedule. She did a lot to set a positive tone from the start.

I also have to give a shout-out to WIFTV board member, Dusty Kelly, who was a welcome touchstone at the festival whenever I needed a friendly face in the sea of people. Dusty even introduced me to Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, who then tweeted a photo of us together, calling us “industry players.” My husband retweeted that one, although I think he liked my photo with actor/director LeVar Burton the best. My husband’s a serious Trekker.


Dusty Kelly, Dawn Brett-Hauschild and Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly

4) Do you have any new projects on the horizon, or a further development of current projects because of this experience?

Yeah, surprisingly enough, one of my factual television pitches was well received, and now I’m following up with a few different interested broadcasters and production executives to talk next steps. On top of that, I might even have an opportunity to try my hand at scripted television. In short, the whole experience felt like a Cinderella story to me – thanks in large part to my fairy godmother, WIFTV, for giving me the confidence (and financial support) to take my career to the next level. Now, if only the airline could return my lost luggage – all my good shoes were in there.

Screenwriter Carla Custance – Life After VIWIFF2016


Official Selection Screenwriters and Jurists at VIWIFF2016

This year was the second season for the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival’s International Screenwriting Competition. Carla Custance impressed the jury with her feature screenplay, Resurrecting Jane Doe, and walked away from the festival with the top prize.

We caught up with Carla back home in Ottawa for a discussion on her writing process and what happens next for Carla and her award-winning screenplay.

Your script, Resurrecting Jane Doe won this year’s Screenplay Award at the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival. What’s the story about and how did you decide that this was an idea you wanted to focus on?

The logline is “When a lonely mortician identifies a Jane Doe, he tells her family a tall tale about her to help them grieve and falls in love with her sister. Things get complicated when he uncovers Jane’s real story – if he can’t keep it under wraps, it’ll break their hearts and end the only real relationship he’s ever had.”


        Carla with her prize for Best Screenplay

I chose this story because it appealed to me thematically. I think that we all tell ourselves “stories’ so that we don’t have to face certain truths and this script allowed me to explore that.

What comes first to you in your process, the character or the story?

The character usually comes to me first. For Resurrecting Jane Doe, the idea for the main character came to me about a year before the story did.

How do you approach building the layers of your story?

I’m very structure oriented. I write numerous outlines, breaking the story into eight sequences or mini-movies and then layer in subplots that work towards the same theme. I use the outline as a starting point, but once I start writing script pages, I let the story take me where it wants to go. In my rewrites, I work with the various story elements until it feels right.

How do you come up with your ideas for your stories?

I find my ideas everywhere, as I go about my daily life. Often I’ll observe something or hear something that makes me ask, “What if?” Other times they come solely from my imagination. They often come in snippets.  A character, a setting, an obstacle, a statement I want to make. I write them all down in my “ideas” notebook and eventually when the right ones connect, I have my story.

What has this award meant for you?

Carla Custance

Carla is already working on a new screenplay.

I’m thrilled to have my work recognized by such an amazing festival. It gives me visibility and access to the industry that I didn’t have previously. Getting to spend a week with so many talented writers, directors and producers was inspiring. And it all happened the week that the National Film Board announced parity for women in film in Canada.

What has happened for the screenplay in the month since the festival? Have you been contacting production companies?

I’ve just started querying producers about the script. Interested parties can contact me via my website

What are you planning to follow this script with? Do you have another script you’re working on?

I’m working on a new comedy screenplay, which will be finished this summer.

By Michelle Muldoon

Celebrating National Canadian Film Day with Genre Films!

NCFD_Leaderboard_1024x150As we gear up for National Canadian Film Day, we caught up with several representatives of Vancouver’s film talent: actor Ariel Hansen; directors Gigi Saul Guerrero and Jordan Barnes-Crouse; and producer Carolyn Williams to get their take on horror films, women protagonists and the special event itself.

Ariel Hansen

Ariel Hansen in full horror make-up

Ariel revealed that unlike performing in other genres, horror relies a great deal more on imaginary circumstances.
“ As a horror actor, you draw from parallels to life rather than from real life itself” she elaborates, and she enjoys this challenge. Carolyn also enjoys overcoming the obstacles of creating genre films. She explains “Indie horror films in particular offer the interesting challenge of balancing stories with complex visuals and practical effects while working with very limited budgets!” Gigi adds that “in horror its so important to have just enough budget for certain departments to make your horror film stand out, such as Make Up effects. Blood and Gore is crucial to be pulled off if your horror flick requires it”

While comedies and dramas get labeled as “ chick-flicks” when they have a female protagonists, horror films remain horror films, which is another reason Ariel enjoys her roles in terrifying stories. Jordan adds, “It’s important to see more female characters in general, and in atypical roles.

Making of ARMS

Making of ARMS (directed by Jordan Barnes-Crouse)

When you do see a female protagonist, they rarely deviate from social norms, or are often exaggerated for marketability. I’d like to see women depicted in more diverse professions, being capable and proactive rather than simply strong or resilient. Despite the outlandish nature of genre films, I think they’re stronger when the core characters and concepts are treated believably.”

And there are many Canadian genre films to be celebrated on National Canadian Film Day, including Fido and Pontypool (two of Ariel’s favourites). According to her, these two are vivid examples of great Canadian genre filmmaking that, sadly, all too often fly under the radar. National Canadian Film Day is excellent not only because it showcases our talents, but also because it “can showcase how little exposure Canadian films usually get. More people need to see Canadian films,” she concludes, and Jordan agrees, stating, “The flavour of Canadian cinema is really unique, but is sadly underappreciated within the country. This is mainly due to a lack of exhibition, so organizing screenings and giving people the chance to see the incredibly diverse talent we have is fantastic.”

Gigi has her plate full, with her successful short film “El Gigante [being] developed into a feature film”


Gigi Saul Guerrero on set

She plans to begin filming later this year “or immediately in 2017”. Jordan and Carolyn are also working on a new film, Red Sanare, a “wilderness survival tale of sorts that wanders into cosmic horror”, while Ariel is slated to appear in another genre film – Valley of the Rats, directed by Vince D’Amato. This time, she’ll be taking on the role of a private investigator, a woman with strength and agency. Before we see her kick ass and take names in Valley of the Rats, check out Ariel’s performance in ARMS, a dark genre short that screens at NCFD, along with Madre de Dios and O NEGATIVE, presented by Shivers Film Society & Cinemafantastique and WIFTV

By Alina Koval

WIFTV announces #VIWIFF2016 Festival Awards

The exhilarating week that marked the 11th Annual Vancouver Int’l Women in Film Festival (#VIWIFF2016) kicked off with a bang on International Women’s Day, March 8. The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) chose our venue to announce its groundbreaking initiative that 50 per cent of future NFB productions will be directed by women.

The festival week that ensued featured a plethora of films created by women from all over world, and offered numerous opportunities for networking and professional development.

The festival came to a close on Sunday, March 13, with the annual awards gala. Continue reading